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American Gender Segregation - Transience Divine
January 17th, 2011
03:43 pm

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American Gender Segregation
I'm back in the country! Our last few days in Greece were sublime, with so many cute coffeeshops, and a culture that appears to spend all its waking hours in them, just nursing drinks and free cookies and talking. It's also Flame's birthday today, and the day before my classes start, but that's not what I want to talk about.

Last night we had a birthday dinner with friends, and the topic of how Facebook has changed people's lives and culture at large came up. Within our group, I noticed a big gender divide: not only did the men take a more relaxed approach to social networking, but they were much less concerned about the expectations, stalking, and panoptical potential of the site. I imagine that if you told a stereotypical man that someone might be watching his wall all the time, he would feel some flattery and some pity, but very little self-concern.

I was jumped on for suggesting that it was a gender distinction. The women, who have all studied gender (I have not), pointed out that it was probably more of an age distinction. While no doubt also a factor, I wanted to explore the idea further. I think I'm pretty aware of the complexities of gender identity, but I don't know who to incorporate those complexities into this, so take it as rough generalizations.

Is it taboo to say that American society has a lot of gender segregation, at least for children? Compared to other cultures, we're somewhere in the middle, between cultures which physically separate boys and girls, and those that draw little distinction between them until puberty. But I'm mainly concerned with how we are compared to how we might be, and what direction we're moving in.

It seems to me that American society has very strong social barriers between genders. Flame loves to point out people who are biologically different from their gender identification, but for the most part it's pretty easy to read someone's gender: men and women and boys and girls wear different clothes and talk differently. Several professions are mostly gender segregated, including some new ones (e.g., CS and bioengineering). As children, boys and girls tend to live in very different social worlds, reading different magazines, participating in different activities, and with friend circles of typically of just one gender. If someone approaches you on an dark, empty street, you might worry differently if they're black or white or sober or drunk, but if they're female, you probably won't worry at all.

So I wonder how new technologies affect that equilibrium. For example, I imagine that modern television has been a force for greater segregation among children, with advertisers and producers projecting and targeting very strong gender distinctions. How about Facebook? As a single forum with both genders, it might be a desegregating force, but I wonder to what extent the different emotions it engenders are the result of existing gender segregation and to what extend it exaccerbates them.

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From:infryq
Date:January 17th, 2011 09:15 pm (UTC)
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I may pretend to know what I'm talking about below, but in reality this is not the case. I just don't like the idea of you being jumped on for suggesting gender was a factor. :P

I think the most interesting thing in how this discussion works in groups of people has to do with what we want the world to be or become. There may be distinctions that appear to be gender-related, but if we can find reasoning that they're age-related instead, maybe those distinctions become more acceptable. Maybe then we don't feel obligated to do something about it, or maybe it becomes more obvious what *should* be done. Convincing young people to be more wary of strangers seems a lot easier than convincing predators not to target women, then waiting a generation for the fear to dissipate. I think we'd rather live in a world where women are as comfortable participating in social networking as men are.

There are parallels to the race/affluence divisions, too -- if racial diversity in management isn't what it should be, it's a lot easier to say it's due to a lack of college funding, and a lack of time/attention for K12 studies, because those problems have more obvious (although not necessarily easy) solutions than "make HR stop being jerks". Nobody wants to believe the person who hired them is a jerk.

Maybe age groups and poverty and education are the real problems. We should fix them, and find out. But if we ignore the other possibilities, and girls wind up still justifiably afraid of stalkers, and CEOs are still overwhelmingly white, we'll be back where we started. That'll feel pretty dumb.
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From:jrising
Date:January 19th, 2011 04:14 am (UTC)
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Those are good points. One difference here is that we (or Mr. Zuckerberg) are creating Facebook to be whatever it is. Whereas with college admission, where there's a tough balance between the "real" solution and the efficient solution, here we can do the equivalent of eliminating colleges. I'm not suggesting that we outlaw Facebook, but there were hundreds of arbitrary choices that went into giving Facebook the strengths and weaknesses that it has. If we can identify those choices that have produced a gender bias, we can change them. More generally, social networking is a social system that we're still in the process of constructing. It's a really powerful one, and we need to recognize our opportunity to construct it right, to be a equalizing and mutually respectful force.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 26th, 2011 10:46 pm (UTC)

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